Ross and Ward Saito: from summer jobs to ownership of flagship Canadian tire stores
It has been said that 90 percent of all Canadians live within a 15-minute drive of a Canadian Tire store; that nine out of ten adult Canadians shop at one at least twice a year; and that 40 percent of Canadians shop at Canadian Tire every week. Indeed, in any list of businesses that could be considered distinctly Canadian, Canadian Tire would place at or near the top of the list.
The origins of Canadian Tire go back to 1922, when two brothers, John William Billes and Alfred Jackson Billes, invested their combined savings of $1,800 to purchase The Hamilton Tire and Garage Ltd in Toronto.
The brothers incorporated under the name Canadian Tire Corporation Ltd. in 1927 and the first official associate store opened in Toronto in 1934. After expanding into a full line of automotive products, the brothers added home and garden supplies and by 1980 had a nationwide network of dealer-operated Canadian Tire Associate Stores, making it the most successful Canadian-owned and -operated franchise in the country’s history.
Here in Vancouver, two other brothers, Ross and Ward Saito, are making their mark on the retail market. Together they own and operate the flagship Cambie store, one of the busiest stores in the country, as well as the Grandview Highway store.
Ross points out that Japanese Canadians have played an important role in the history and success of Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC). Two such notable individuals are Arthur “Art” Arai and Fred Sasaki, both of whom were hired by Canadian Tire’s founders J.W. Billes and A.J. Billes. Art worked alongside A.J. Billes for 50 years, serving as his confidant and assistant. Fred Sasaki worked at CTC for 45 years, working his way up to Vice President of Finance and Corporate Treasurer.
Ross and Ward have followed in the footsteps of people like Art and Fred, rising up through the ranks through hard work and dedication. In fact, Art was one of Ross’s mentors and they still keep in touch today.
Ross started working at a Vancouver Canadian Tire in 1981 while in high school. He progressed up through the ranks to Store Manager, working in seven different stores in the Lower Mainland. In 1984 Ross left to work for Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC) in Toronto and held several positions, including Field Merchandiser, District Manager, Logistics Manager and Director Re-Engineering, before becoming a CTC Dealer. During this time he went back to school to receive his MBA.
Ross’s first CTC store was in Stephenville NFLD. He ran this for three years until he returned to Vancouver in 2000 to operate ten CTC stores with his brother, Ward, who has followed a similar career trajectory. Ward’s his first store was in North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
Looking for a way to become more involved in the Vancouver Nikkei community, Ross recently joined the Boards of the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre of Directors and the Nikkei Place Foundation. This month Ross and Ward have the distinction of being the presenting sponsors of the 2012 Nikkei Place Community Awards Fundraising Dinner.
Ross spoke to The Bulletin by e-mail.
Interview: Ross Saito